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Enemies of Civilization: Attitudes toward Foreigners in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China

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Looks at how foreigners were regarded in three ancient civilizations, finding that cultural, not biophysical, differences were key in distinguishing “us” from “them.”

Enemies of Civilization is a work of comparative history and cultural consciousness that discusses how “others” were perceived in three ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Each civilization was the dominant culture in its part of the world, and each developed a mind-set that regarded itself as culturally superior to its neighbors. Mu-chou Poo compares these societies’ attitudes toward other cultures and finds differences and similarities that reveal the self-perceptions of each society.

Notably, this work shows that in contrast to modern racism based on biophysical features, such prejudice did not exist in these ancient societies. It was culture rather than biophysical nature that was the most important criterion for distinguishing us from them. By examining how societies conceive their prejudices, this book breaks new ground in the study of ancient history and opens new ways to look at human society, both ancient and modern.

Mu-chou Poo is Professor and Research Fellow in the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. He is the author of several books, including In Search of Personal Welfare: A View of Ancient Chinese Religion, also published by SUNY Press.

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